Today (Thursday, December 21), is the eleventh anniversary of Antiwar.com, and I didnt even realize it, at first. A look at our blog reminded me, and the ever-present question “What shall I write about today?” was, mercifully, answered.
I say mercifully because that question has been bedeviling me, of late, rather more than usual. Oh, there are certain subjects that cry out to be written about, that virtually demand it: the escalation of the war (in spite of the recent election results), the Litvinenko affair (for sheer entertainment value), the Iraq Study Group report (in the line of duty).
Yet, more and more, these days, there are gaps, when nothing is pressing because everything is. In Iraq, the crisis long predicted in these pages has come to pass, and shows every sign of accelerating. I have written before about the cumulative effects of saying “I told you so,” and yet, somehow, this holiday season, frustration dissipates, and a calm, contemplative mood settles over this writer.
It is futile to wail and keen about human folly, because the patterns are recurrent throughout history: empires rise, and fall, and each fails to learn the lesson dramatized by its predecessors. We might be Rome, with mad Caligula at the helm: or the Brits, as they drooped beneath the White Mans Burden. It is a Robinson Jeffers moment:
“While this America settles in the mould of its vulgarity, heavily thickening to empire,
“And protest, only a bubble in the molten mass, pops and sighs out, and the mass hardens,
“I sadly smiling remember that the flower fades to make fruit, the fruit rots to make earth.
“Out of the mother; and through the spring exultances, ripeness and decadence; and home to the mother.”
The imperial impulse is portrayed, here, as an organic process, part of the cycle of life and death. Or perhaps it only seems inevitable: are we, the antiwar movement, really just a bubble formed out of the molten mass, an air pocket in the lava flow? I ask only because sometimes it does feels like that .
Jeffers, the poet laureate of the Old Right, was a solitary man who lived in a stone tower of his own construction in what were the wilds of Carmel, California, throughout the 1920s until his death in 1962. He was, for a while, a Major Poet, the golden boy of the California literati, until the onset of World War II when his enormous bitterness at the onset of the conflict made him politically radioactive. His publisher, Bennett Cerf of Random House, formerly happy to publish his works, took to gutting his books of their antiwar content, and especially took the scissors to poems lambasting Franklin Roosevelt. The War Party took out after Jeffers hammer and tongs, declaring him a “reactionary,” if not an agent of Hitler and the Mikado, and promptly excommunicating him in a process that has, by this time, become all too familiar from polite company. William Everson chronicled the hate campaign aimed at Jeffers 1948 volume, The Double Axe:
“A necrophilic nightmare! cried Time magazine, and a host of compeers bayed in response. . . . The Milwaukee Journal said, In this truculent book, Robinson Jeffers . . . makes it clear that he feels the human race should be abolished. . . . The Library Journal said his violent, hateful book is a gospel of isolationism carried beyond geography, faith or hope.”
The poet, aloof and stoic, expected no more, and no less. The stanzas cited above are from “Shine, Perishing Republic,” a work whose title is all too evocative of the present age. Jeffers his poem about Cassandra suddenly springs to mind goes on:
“You making haste, haste on decay: not blameworthy; life is good, be it stubbornly long or suddenly
“A mortal splendor: meteors are not needed less than mountains: shine, perishing republic.
“But for my children, I would have them keep their distance from the thickening center; corruption
“Never has been compulsory, when the cities lie at the monster’s feet there are left the mountains.”
No one is to blame, says Jeffers: in the end, we are all just part of a process inherent in nature, and the nature of humankind. Perhaps thats why he called himself an “Inhumanist.” The American republic, like a meteor streaking across the midnight sky, catches the eye, for a moment, and is gone, its tail curving off into space like a question mark. If all this is inevitable, then what are we doing, opposing the Imperium that hardens, and thickens, bubbling up out of the earth in spurts of volcanic fury?
If Jeffers is right, then we can no more stop it than King Canute could command the tides, as his deluded courtiers thought but this, too, is an illusion. Jeffers, I believe, had no wish to intervene, he loved his mountains the jagged Northern California shore of rocks and fog that so perfectly reflected his inner austerity and had no desire to come down into the valley, like Zarathustra, bearing a message his fellows could not bear, and would not listen to in any event:
“And boys, be in nothing so moderate as in love of man, a clever servant, insufferable master.
“There is the trap that catches noblest spirits, that caught they say God, when he walked on earth.”
Jeffers was martyred, anyway, although he disdained the role. The critics, the gatekeepers, the guardians of political correctness made sure his name, and work, were buried deep beneath a thousand epithets. So many suffered a similar fate: their careers destroyed, or, worse, aborted before they were truly begun, for the mortal sin of “isolationism.” In Jeffers time, it was the Left that stood guard at the gates of the acceptable, while today it is the Right: and yet very little has actually changed. As ever, the War God reigns over us all, and dissenters heretics are punished swiftly, and mercilessly.
“The trap that catches the noblest spirits” according to Jeffers, we are fighting against the supposedly inexorable tide of History. Yet there is nothing inevitable about our present downward course: our republic is not a meteor, but a living star, one whose lifespan has yet to reach its natural end, if there is or can be such a thing. Here I must part company with Jeffers, without ceasing to admire the coherence and grave beauty of his tragic vision: opposing evil is not a “trap.” Or, if it is, it is one that catches its victims with their full cooperation, and even enjoyment.
No, I dont enjoy my subject matter, especially on certain occasions, and yet it is a privilege to be able to address a substantial audience on a regular basis. I am grateful for it every day of my life. Even as I come to despair of ever reaching some sort of conclusion victory, defeat, whatever in this apparently endless struggle against what seems like a dark force sprung from the very depths of Hell.
What we are facing is a veritable army of well-paid and energetic fiends who live and breathe in service to Ares. This warrior cult is oddly bereft of actual warriors: real soldiers are not quite so eager to plunge into battle. Indeed, these days, they are advising against it in vain. Its the civilian high priests of the Pentagon and their squadrons of laptop bombardiers in the neocon press who want a “surge” of mass murder. Mars must be propitiated with the fresh blood of innocents. As long as these acolytes of empire rule over us, perpetual war is our future.
Jeffers images of decline seem taken straight out of the evening news. Our empire, like all the others, bears within itself the seeds of its own dissolution. Once risen, decay sets in almost immediately: moral and physical rot eventually hollows out “the thickening center,” which falls in on itself, collapsing in a landslide that sweeps away everything in its path. Where once there was a high civilization a young and vital culture hitched to a mighty economic engine, a society based on the rule of law and the limits, not the exercise, of power there is only a molten mass of vulgarity, “heavily thickening to empire.” Such is our fate if we follow our present course to the end.
Yet Jeffers is wrong. Revolutions happen. They are not always violent events: an intellectual or cultural revolution can result in the meltdown of the system. In the end, people simply stop obeying. The soldiers refuse their orders. The crowds gather in the public square, and storm the gates of authority, meeting no resistance. This is what happened in the former Soviet empire: God willing, the American version will go the same way, only quicker. If its quick enough, after all, we might not be dragged down with it: our republic need not perish, provided it can recover quickly from the moral and financial debilities that are the natural excrescence of the imperial disease.
Eleven years after our first posting, I am tempted by my naturally pessimistic temperament to wonder why we are so far from victory. In this, my frustration strangely mirrors that of our obsessive chief executive, who weirdly insists, against all evidence, that his monomaniacal crusade in Iraq can yet succeed. Yet there is reason to hope: unlike “victory” in Iraq, or Afghanistan for that matter, our goals are objectively definable, and, yes, obtainable.
We want an end, not only to the particular policies that underscore the utter bankruptcy and criminality of interventionism and militarism, but also to the power of the War Party over our institutions, including government, the media and the culture at large. What is needed is an ideological sea-change, a dramatic paradigm shift away from the narrative of domination and hegemony that shapes and colors U.S. foreign policy, and toward a more realistic and healthier frame of reference.
There are many indications that this is indeed occurring: that an intellectual revolution is taking place, and the American public is waking up. Antiwar.com is proud to take some of the credit for that, though hardly the lions share. With Antiwar.coms growing reach 100,000 readers daily and our record of having been right about this war, not only in a general sense but right down to the dirty details, we have the kind of credibility that is worth a million readers, and more. And we have earned it.
This Christmas, sitting around the dinner table, Ill be silently thanking my readers, and our many supporters. In the glow of the Christmas tree lights, as I reflect on the past year and the meaning of it all, Ill feel grateful for falling in to the “trap” of having to churn out several thousand words a week on the foibles and follies of American foreign policy, secure in the knowledge that Im fighting the good fight and Im not alone.
NOTES IN THE MARGIN
By the way, this being the end of the year and all, with your yearly tax deduction deadline fast approaching, you might want to consider making a contribution to Antiwar. Get your 100% tax-deductible donation in just under the wire – and you can do it online. Or by snail-mail. Either way, your contribution is essential to our mission: we can’t continue without your support. If you’re going to give in this season of giving, then what better cause than that of peace?